Is 2020 the Year to Celebrate Thanksgiving?
It goes without saying, that this Thanksgiving is unlike any we have experienced before. Even if you are not one to have a big family get together, it seems odd to have a virtual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and to be organizing Zoom dinners, rather than deciding who is bringing the dessert. The truth is that in the wake of surging Covid cases, expansive restrictions, and a death toll that won’t stop rising, it is difficult to feel very grateful this Thanksgiving. It can almost feel cliché to give thanks in a year like 2020.
If you’re not feeling thankful this year, then hear this, it’s okay. There is nothing wrong with you. The countless waves of fear, stress, and sadness that have washed over you this year is enough to make anyone quit. So, the fact that you are even open to doing one more Zoom call makes me think you deserve a pat on the back. The most important thing any of us can do this Thanksgiving is making sure we are taking care of ourselves. That will look different for each us, but whether or not you feel thankful this year, you deserve time to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. So, this Thursday, take a half hour to go for a walk or do some yoga. Spend time in prayer or writing cards to friends and be sure to raise a glass to the accomplishment of making it through the last 9 months.
Next, take time to acknowledge what you’re not grateful for this year. Unresolved grief occurs when we are unwilling to name the loss we have felt and the feelings that are associated with that loss. For example, I’m not thankful for this pandemic. I’m not thankful for the Canadian border’s closing which prevents me from seeing much of my family. I’m not thankful for the ways the virus has disrupted my life and the lives of those I love. Although, I don’t have control over these things, just naming them helps me to be honest about the loss I’ve experienced over the last 9 months and enables me to give those things over to God in prayer.
And as for gratefulness, well, that has its place too. In fact, gratefulness is key to good self-care. Robert Emmons, Ph.D., is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude and a professor at University of California, Davis. He says,
“In fact, it is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life. In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times.”
None of us can single-handedly put an end to this pandemic, but each of us can use gratitude towards managing the negative feelings we are experiencing, be those feelings of loneliness, sadness, or even anger.
The key is embracing the difference between feeling grateful and being grateful. Feelings come and go and we often have very little control over what feelings we are experiencing at any one time. If you’ve ever told yourself to stop feeling depressed while you are in a depression or to stop feeling anxious when you are worried, you know that feelings don’t tend to obey your commands. So, to cultivate gratitude, it is important to know that gratitude is both a feeling and a choice. In good times, we can rely on the feelings of gratitude to produce in us a heart of thanksgiving, but in the hard times, we must make the difficult, but worthy, choice to be thankful.
Of course, we are not the first to have had to make the choice to be grateful in trying times. Those who have gone before us have used Thanksgiving as an opportunity to choose gratefulness in times of heartache. Emmons says, “The first Thanksgiving took place after nearly half the pilgrims died from a rough winter and year. It became a national holiday in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War and was moved to its current date in the 1930s following the Depression.” So perhaps, 2020 is the perfect year to celebrate Thanksgiving.
It’s understandable if you’re not feeling thankful this year, but choosing gratefulness might just be the ingredient you need to add to your self-care. It may be as simple as counting your fingers and thinking of ten different things you are thankful for. It may be writing down a list of thanksgiving or even calling a friend to tell them how grateful you are for them. Whatever way you choose to be thankful this year, know that it’s not a cliché, but it is essential to a full and happy life.
In the words of the Apostle Paul, “I thank my God in all my remembrances of you.” Happy Thanksgiving!
Peace be upon you,
Chaplain Travis Jamieson